Riverside County officials concerned for Title 42 impact and possible influx of migrants

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Thursday, May 11, 2023
Riverside County prepares for migrants ahead of Title 42's end
Riverside County officials are preparing for the influx of migrants expected to come across the border following the end of the Covid-era restriction, Title 42, at 8:59 p.m. Thursday.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- Riverside County officials are preparing for an influx of migrants expected to come across the border following the end of the COVID-era restriction Title 42 at 8:59 p.m. Thursday.

The county is the only non-border county in the country that receives migrant dropoffs from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, with Border Patrol centers in cities including Murrieta, Indio and Blythe.

The county's CEO has said the county could begin receiving more than 200 undocumented immigrants per day, causing a major stress on resources.

The increase in immigration is expected to occur once Title 42 ends because the emergency measure allowed border officials to quickly return people to other countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the measure is now ending, immigrants will have a much longer process to go through before possible deportation.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the health order provided the means to expel 2.7 million individuals over the last three years.

"It remains to be seen what the local impact will be in the coming days, weeks or months when Title 42 expires,'' county CEO Jeff Van Wagenen told City News Service. "It is likely that we will see an increase in the number of individuals released by CBP. This will cause significant stress to the system.''

On Wednesday, the Biden administration implemented stricter limitations on who can receive asylum after entering the country illegally. The measure will deny asylum to migrants who show up at the U.S.-Mexico border without first applying online or seeking protection in a country they passed through.

In March and April of this year, Riverside County received about 122 migrants per day, and in May the county has been averaging about 200 per day. The number of migrants being dropped off is only expected to grow in the coming months.

The county has a capacity of 300 and as of this week, facilities are at 95% capacity.

According to Van Wagenen, the county began receiving large numbers of migrant transfers from Border Patrol agents who had nowhere to put them in March 2021. The period coincided with President Joe Biden's rescission of Trump's executive orders restricting immigration, including construction of a border wall.

Since that time, Border Patrol dropoffs near the agency's offices in Blythe, Indio and Murrieta have been constant, Van Wagenen said.

According to Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, the tide of border crossers may turn into a tsunami after Title 42 restrictions vanish.

An estimated 150,000 migrants are waiting in northern Mexico for Title 42 to end so they can cross the border, with hundreds of thousands of additional migrants heading north from southern Mexico and Central America, Calvert told CNS. "For years, Republicans in Congress have urged the Biden Administration to take action to prevent this crisis, but nothing has been done, and the human tragedy is only going to get worse due to President Biden's inaction.''

The administration has denied the border could spin out of control. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said last week that the "border is not open, it has not been open, and it will not be open subsequent to May 11.''

Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Indio, told CNS that our immigration system is broken "but the administration has taken positive steps to institute a safe, orderly and humane system that reflects our American values.''

"There is more work to do to equip our CBP personnel and border communities with the resources they need,'' Ruiz said. "That is why I advocated directly to the White House for engagement with local government entities and organizations to prepare for the end of Title 42.''

The county has been working with local organizations to prevent the immigration crisis from becoming a homeless crisis as well. They will be providing motel rooms, meals and health screenings for those that come through the county.

So far, Riverside County has spent $10 million on dealing with new migrants since March 2021. But officials say all the money spent so far has been reimbursed by the state and federal government.

"There is an urgent need for intervention, especially given the uncertainty,'' Van Wagenen said. "We are actively working with state and federal agencies ... to relieve the strain placed on the county.''

City News Service contributed to this report.